Friday, 15 December, 2017

Voyager 1 Fires Up its Old Thrusters After 37 Years

Voyager 1 After 37 years, Voyager 1 has fired up its trajectory thrusters
Edmund Wade | 04 December, 2017, 01:28

For auto read Voyager 1, and for engine read a set of four trajectory thrusters, and that's exactly what NASA boffins have done.

Launched in September 1977, the plutonium-powered probe encountered Jupiter and its moons in March 1979, then flew by Saturn in November 1980, before heading northward out of the ecliptic plane, the disk in which the solar system's planets reside.

Astronomy textbooks were rewritten on a wide scale thanks to the Voyager spacecraft, which zoomed past Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus. The team might conduct a similar test with Voyager 2's backups to ensure it can also send data back after it follows its older sibling to interstellar space in a few years' time. The thrusters fire in tiny pulses, or "puffs", lasting mere milliseconds to turn the spacecraft.

Nasa had grown anxious about the altitude control thrusters on Voyager 1, which have been wearing down.

Experts at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California made a decision to turn to four backup thrusters that were last used on November 8, 1980. The probe now uses its attitude control thrusters to make tiny corrections - firing for only milliseconds at a time - to rotate it to point its antenna towards Earth. However, almost 20 hours after firing up the backup thrusters, engineers received a signal from the Voyager back on Earth, which meant their test was successful.

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, they learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly - and just as well as the attitude control thrusters.

The JPL's engineers began to look into alternatives, and found a new way to steer the spacecraft: the probe's trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test", Barber said. They will do so by switching over to backup TCM thrusters in early January of next year.

The spacecraft - now over 141 times the distance between the earth and the sun - is expected to go dark some time in the next five years as the remaining energy is depleted. According to Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd, the reactivated thrusters should help extend the life of the probe for another "two to three years".

Each Voyager spacecraft carries four TCM thrusters and 12 small attitude control rocket jets, divided into two redundant chains of six thrusters.

Voyager 1, the probe which became the first man-made object to leave the solar system in 2012, has been away from home for a long, long time - approximately 40 years.

The spacecraft are powered by radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) that generate heat from the decay of plutonium-238.

The spacecraft has already provided us with some answers about our solar system.

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